10 Common Rookie Bartender Mistakes & How to Prevent Them

Published: 03 August 2023

It’s hard to imagine someone excelling behind the bar without making mistakes along the way. Bartending is a detail-oriented job, and the clientele can be exceedingly demanding and unforgiving. Throw in the debilitating effects of working in a high-pressure environment and even the most stalwart of individuals are going to screw up. We all have to start somewhere, but there are some common mistakes that are preventable.

Here are some glaring mistakes rookie bartenders make when they step behind the bar for their first few shifts, and how to prevent them.


1. Using glasses as ice scoops

Simply dipping a glass in the ice bin may seem like a simple time saver but trust any bartender who has seen this technique go wrong: Use the ice scoop. On a busy night, there is a very slim chance a bartender will notice a hairline fracture in a glass. Once it hits the ice, a small crack can turn into a full break. Now imagine the amount of time it would take to burn off the ice and clean the ice during peak hours.

Scooping ice directly with a cocktail shaker or a serving glass is not only unsanitary, as your hands are entering the same container storing things that will then be used in guests’ drinks, but you also run the risk of glass shattering while submerged in the ice. “If that glass breaks in the ice bin, you now have to burn all of that ice off, which sets service back significantly,”

Pro Tip: Use an ice scoop, every time


2. Being overconfident with pouring abilities

It takes a lot of practice and muscle memory to be able to free pour an exact 30mls or whatever your standard pour is. While this is certainly something that can be practiced, there is no shame in using a measuring jigger to get things right. This technique will prevent heavy-handed cocktails that eat away at the bar's bottom-line, and also protect the integrity of the drink by ensuring consistency and achieving balanced drinks. There is nothing worse than walking into an establishment and ordering the same cocktail from two different bartenders and being met with a completely different drink each time. Like baking, cocktails require balance and precision to get the flavours just right. Proper jiggering technique is crucial and holding the jigger level is necessary. Pouring extra in after using a jigger and not rinsing out a jigger after pouring something thick or creamy can really mess with the balance of a cocktail. Over-pouring can create an unbalanced drink and cost the bar money.

Pro Tip: Use a measuring jigger and keep practising that pour count


3. Glass handling

Glasses must be handled with care. Bartending is an extension of food service, which means that responsible sanitary practices are critical. Green bartenders often make the mistake of grabbing glassware like they are clearing the table at their own home. It is essential that they avoid touching the inside of the glass - even dirty ones - at all costs. Avoid touching any part of the glass which may be in contact with the customer’s lips. Always hold glasses by the lowest part of their stems if they have them, or by the lowest part of the glass. Get into the habit of using a tray when delivering and clearing glassware. If a glass is chipped or cracked it must not be used but noted and thrown away.

Pro Tip: Hold only the lowest part of a glass, always use a tray, and check for chips and cracks


4. Forgetting to chill the glass

Have you ever received a cold drink in a hot glass that just came out of the glass washer, only for the glass to either explode in your hand or for the base of the glass to suddenly fall off? A rookie mistake when you’re under the pump and rushing to fulfil a customer’s order is to use the first glass closest to you instead of taking a moment to look for the coldest glass to serve the drink in. Always use chilled glassware for cold drinks and vice versa if you’re serving a hot drink.

Pro Tip: Always reach for the coldest glass when serving cold drinks


5. Shaking instead of stirring and vice versa

It is common, and totally understandable, that new bartenders will end up shaking a drink when they should have stirred and vice versa. For managers, it is important to create an environment where new bartenders aren't afraid to ask questions. Providing information and resources will help them progress quickly. Unless a drink includes juice or eggs in the mix, there’s no reason to shake it. In the same way, stirring when you ought to shake won’t give your drink the right frothy, ethereal texture.

Pro Tip: Learn the foundations of technique application for different styles of drinks


6. Having a disorganised messy station

Mise en place doesn’t just apply to the line in the kitchen. Keeping shakers, common tools like swizzlers and strainers, and often poured bottles within easy and sensible reach is a must. The rookie bartender fails to anticipate these needs ahead of the busiest part of their shift, doesn’t put items back where they found them, and eventually falls victim to the ensuing chaos. Of course, it can take a few shifts before a new bartender learns how to anticipate the workflow they need to prepare for.

Shakers, stirrers, dirty glasses, and the like need to be promptly removed and cleaned, and don’t leave dirty shakers on the bar top in front of guests.

Pro Tip: Maintaining cleanliness is just as vital as organisation


7. Fumbling communication (during busy periods)

Every position in a bar or restaurant is like part of a highly skilled ballet: working behind the bar, in the kitchen, on the floor, or even at the hostess stand requires coordination with the whole team to pull off a smooth and enjoyable experience for patrons. Crank up the pressure and even common courtesy can quickly disappear. A rookie bartender will fail to give the bar back or dishwasher a heads up when glasses are low, when fresh towels are needed, or more limes need to be cut. There is no space behind the bar to keep crucial info in a silo, nor is there room to mince words. Rookies should learn how to be clear, concise, and quick in their communication with co-workers so every person can do their job well.

Bartenders must also learn to maintain their composure and always control their emotions. Learn how to de-escalate, handle unwanted attention, and know when it is time to stop pouring for an over-inebriated guest. Rookie bartenders should do their best to cultivate a thick skin and fine-tune their instincts to handle the potential conflicts and awkward conversations that can arise when a crowd of people are imbibing in a packed bar. Stress and frustration should not be vented onto the clientele or co-workers. Any issues that arise during service should be addressed after service and not in the heat of the moment when emotions are high.


8. Failing to honour RSA 

Every bartender must ensure they are only pouring for people that are of legal drinking age, and that they can cut off patrons that have had too much to drink. Rookies will forget these all-important responsibilities when they are slammed in the middle of a shift, but the consequences of serving haphazardly are all too serious: the establishment could lose its liquor license, or worse, a person could become so inebriated that they place their health in danger. Rookie or a seasoned pro, every bartender should wield the bottle with a heavy sense of duty to the well-being of their paying customers.


9. Drinking every shot offered 

Bartenders are often prolific drinkers and can hold liquor better than a Viking. Still, a rookie will find themselves indulging in every shot the bachelor party wants them to take with them, and will soon find themselves unable to recall whether it was the woman with the blue eyeshadow or the guy with the red shirt who wanted a Scotch and Coke—or was it a Rum and Coke? A love of partying and drinking culture may draw a rookie into a career of bartending, but they would do better if they learnt ways to taper down or say “no, thank you” when it comes to taking shots with their patrons.


10. Serving inferior product 

Whatever the reason, if a drink isn’t up to quality standards, don’t serve it. Make sure that mixes are well prepared and juices fresh. Fruit garnishes should be cut daily and be used only in good condition. Serve drinks at their best temperature with the right amount of dilution. Treat vermouth like wine - An untold number of Martinis have been ruined by oxidised, stale dry vermouth. Although vermouth is fortified, its ABV of 16-18 percent isn’t quite enough to preserve the aromatised wine outside of the fridge or even in the fridge for longer than a month. Date vermouth bottles once opened and store them in the fridge. 

Pro Tip: Don’t take short cuts

Related posts

6 Great Books for Beginner Bartenders


6 Great Books for Beginner Bartenders

Here are 6 great books that will help better prepare yourself as you start your bartending career in hospitality.

When to shake and when to stir a cocktail?


When to shake and when to stir a cocktail?

A common rule of thumb is to shake if there's citrus, stir if there's not.

Why online training makes sense for the hospitality industry


Why online training makes sense for the hospitality industry

What are the benefits of online training for the hospitality industry?

We acknowledge all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians and Traditional Custodians of the lands where we live, learn and work